Finding James Conner’s replacement in the NFL Draft shouldn’t be hard for Steelers
The Steelers are rumored to be in the market for a running back in the NFL Draft this year. Here’s why it shouldn’t be hard to find one that can replace James Conner.
With their third-round compensatory pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers homegrown running back, James Conner. The Pitt product was an impossible player to root against after his battle to overcome cancer.
Conner proved to be a terrific pick by Pittsburgh. Though he hasn’t played a full season in his first three years in the league, he has been able to carry the workload when healthy and has been a pretty efficient runner and pass catcher. Conner even made the Pro Bowl after a 2018 season that included nearly 1,000 yards on the ground, 500 yards through the air, and 13 total touchdowns.
Despite his early success, James Conner is much easier to replace than you might think. From the looks of things, the Steelers could elect to find his replacement as early as April’s NFL Draft. Conner is playing on the last year of his rookie deal in 2020, and there have been rumors that he may not return to Pittsburgh after this season.
While I’m a fan of Conner’s work ethic and personality, the Steelers won’t have a hard time replacing his production. Last year, Conner finished 35th in the league in rushing yards and his 4.0 yards per carry ranked 35th in the league among running backs with at least 100 carries in 2019.
According to Pro Football Focus, Conner was the 21st ranked running back a season ago. While he earned a very respectable 89.8 receiving grade, his run grade of 66.8 was below average and his pass blocking grade of 43.4 was pathetic. As a result, Conner earned just a 73.6 overall grade in 2019. In comparison, even players like Carlos Hyde, Latavis Murray, Jamaal Williams, and even the Le’Veon Bell (who averaged a dismal 3.2 yards per carry) were rated higher than him.
This year’s NFL Draft class isn’t exactly loaded with high-end running back prospects, but it is deep with potential workhorse players into day two – which is exactly where Steelers could look to target one. Players like J.K. Dobbins, Cam Akers, Zack Moss, and A.J. Dillon check nearly every box Pittsburgh looks for in a feature running back.
Even last year’s fourth-round running back, Benny Snell was able to make an impact as a rookie, and his 4.4 yards per carry were nearly identical to Conner’s 4.5.
While James Conner is a player I would love to have stick around with the organization, it’s just so hard to justify from a financial standpoint. Conner is just an average NFL running back, and his production can be replaced by a player drafted in the 3rd or 4th round in the draft this year.